December 12, 2014

Jenny Darroch and Marketing to Women

Paper cutout figures of women

Advice for marketers: If you want to do a better job of marketing to women, the first step is to… stop marketing to women. That is, stop marketing to women the way it’s usually done—often involving the use of stereotypes.

Marketing successfully to women is a much more complex process. When done right, it improves marketing practice overall.

Jenny Darroch
Jenny Darroch (Photo by William Vasta)

These are among the conclusions reached by Jenny Darroch, professor in the Drucker School of Management, in her latest book, Why Marketing to Women Doesn’t Work.

Darroch, recognized as a finalist by the Los Angeles Business Journal’s 22nd Annual Women Making a Difference Award in May 2014, advises companies to avoid common pitfalls. These include the “pink it and shrink it” approach; when a business targets women with a pink/pastel-colored or smaller version of an existing product line.

“You see it in hardware stores; you see it in pink power drills and pink measuring tape,” Darroch said. “They are signaling to the female market that their products are female-friendly. But they run the risk of stereotyping and insulting women by signaling that their products are ‘kind’ and ‘feminine’ and ‘gentle.’”

Darroch’s research is bolstered by the changing role of women in society. Over half of American women—58.1 percent—are employed. More women are securing undergraduate and graduate degrees. They account for more than 85 percent of consumer purchases and influence more than 95 percent of goods and services that are purchased in this country.

“There is data coming through that’s showing a real shift away from traditional roles for women,” Darroch said. “The women of the 1950s and 1960s, the ones who were taking care of their husbands, cleaning the home, and cooking meals—that’s not the reality of our world today.”

Book cover

Despite this shift, research shows women are often dissatisfied with how businesses market to them. In Why Marketing to Women Doesn’t Work, Darroch offers several recommendations:

• Avoid gender washing, or treating all women as if they are the same.

• Embrace gender convergence, or the changing roles of men and women (such as women who provide a household’s main income or men who serve as primary caregivers to their children).

• Acknowledge the multiple and blurring roles that women have, and the fluid boundaries between them.

“Who am I the minute you market to me?” Darroch asked. “Am I wearing my ‘mother hat?’ Am I wearing my ‘partner hat?’ Am I wearing my ‘employee hat?’ And even if I am wearing my ‘employee hat,’ am I wearing the ‘hat’ of a researcher or a professor? That’s quite a problem for marketers because they don’t know who I am the minute they market to me.”

And while research confirms that there are differences between the genders—women tend to be more relationship focused, for example—there are times we need to “put gender aside,” Darroch advised.

“Step back and remember what marketing teaches us. Marketing teaches us to focus on customer needs,” she said.

Some needs—such as improved customer service or providing more information touchpoints before purchase—may be common across genders. In cases such as this, improving marketing to women improves marketing to men.

“The wake-up call for a lot of marketers has been about how much influence women have on purchase decision making,” Darroch said. “Even though they may not be the buyer, they may not be the user, they are heavily influential in making those decisions. And that’s a change, a shift in tide in how we look at marketing.”